John Coe and Aquarius are back in the Hebrides!

The unmistakeable fin of John Coe submitted on Whale Track by Aaron Mclean

The unmistakeable fin of John Coe submitted on Whale Track by Aaron Mclean

The familiar fins of John Coe and Aquarius were spotted by Aaron Mclean near Canna on Thursday 8th March!

Last seen at Chanonry Point in the Moray Firth on the 7th January 2019, we are delighted John Coe has returned home to the west coast. John Coe and Aquarius are part of a unique group called the West Coast Community, which are most often seen in Hebrides.

Thanks to Aaron Mclean, Kenny Turnbull, David Macfarlane and Ewan Miles, John Coe has now been spotted near the Small Isles and the north coast of Mull around the same time for the last three years. This time last year, John Coe and Aquarius popped up over 600 kilometres away off Dingle in Ireland just seven days after their visit to Mull!

These sightings show just how wide-ranging and highly mobile the West Coast Community are. This makes them difficult to study, and nearly everything we know about the movements of this group of killer whales is thanks to people like Aaron.

Members of the West Coast Community are identifiable from other groups of killer whales seen around Scotland by their unusual sloping eye patch, larger size, and their distinct dorsal fins and colouration. Sightings like these have shown us that some individuals in this group have not been seen in recent years, and there have been no calves since monitoring began in the 1990’s.

This was mentioned in a recently published paper that reviewed the threats of a group of chemicals that are known to disrupt hormone function. One of these chemicals are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s). Banned in the UK since the 1980’s, once in the marine environment they are difficult to remove and they accumulate in the bodies of all marine animals.

Lulu, the ninth member of the West Coast Community, died and stranded on Tiree in January 2016. Lulu’s death was tragic, but it provided us with a unique insight into the threats facing this small and unique group. Analysis of her tissues by the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme showed that she had one of the highest levels of PCBs ever recorded. High levels of PCBs cause poor heath and infertility, and Lulu’s necropsy showed she had never even been pregnant.

Every sighting is crucial. If you’ve seen killer whales on the west coast, we’d love to hear about it. Sightings can quickly and easily be submitted on Whale Track, which is available as a free smartphone app or online.

With eyes out on the water all of the time, your sightings really do contribute to our understanding of the movements of animals like John Coe. We hope you will get involved!